Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A six-year reflection on my time in Junkyard Empire, the band, and it's FIFTH record....

As the trombone player and oldest member, both in age and participation, I take special personal pride in saying that Junkyard Empire is about to record it's fifth record. Let me say it again: FIFTH record. That's really something. This one will be the second record with Steve Hogan on bass, the fourth with Graham O'Brien on drums and Bryan Berry on guitar, and the fifth with myself and Brian Lozenski a.k.a. Brihanu. In the time this band has been together in one form or another - roughly six years - I have seen a lot, experienced a lot, learned a lot. Here's my story. Just kind of felt like telling it. Maybe I'll be able to convince the other guys to give their reflections as we prepare to record.

In May of 2005, my wife Szilvia and I left the moderate weather conditions of Cotati, California, famously known as the "city of a thousand freaks," for the excruciatingly wet hot Summer in St. Paul, Minnesota. I had just graduated from Sonoma State University with a degree in Political Science at the age of thirty-four, and an intense desire to do work for the common good. I was given a quasi opportunity to go do some work like that for Grassroots Campaigns, which didn't last long. It was just basically a fund raising operation, directly connected to the DNC, and it's top down numbers-generated approach was disgusting. Well, as spirit-sucking as that job was, it was the reason I ended up the Twin Cities. After all, I had to get out of California; we were paying $775 per month for an old converted garage that had holes in its uninsulated walls. Szilvia was taking the Golden Gate Transit down to San Francisco, over an hour RT every day, to a temp job at Charles Schwab. Yeah, I know, hard to believe.

Sick of all that noise, I took the job in St. Paul, arriving in June of 2005. It was that Fall when I put together a concept that would ultimately become Junkyard Empire, specifically upon the arrival of Brihanu. Looking back on it now, it is interesting how mild our expectations were at the beginning. Just having Brihanu rap heavy political theory over Freddie Hubbard tunes was cool enough, right? I mean, shit, playing jazz/funk mashups under a rapper is a kind of nirvana few of us musicians get to experience.

It was when Brihanu and our then guitar player Zacc Harris (another phenomenal musician) started bringing in their originals, along with more of mine too, that the band began to really take on a unique approach composing and a resulting sound. Don't get me wrong though, it was hard. Not only were there lots of ego clashes, bad decisions made, and artistic differences, but rarely did we have a line-up of musicians who were on the same page in regard to where they saw the project going. Ultimately, we went through three sax players, two guiar players, three bass players, and one drummer before finally settling on the current line-up, solidified right after the release of Rebellion Politik. We all learned a lot from the crazy experiences of deciding to go from being a "weekend warrior" kind of band with a message, to a band hell bent on delivering a revolutionary message to the world at large. It didn't become quite real to us how involved we were going to be in movement building until our participation in the 2008 RNC protests. Playing on a stage that was surrounded by riot police, getting gassed, seeing women and journalists pushed down and beaten, and then later finding out that the organizers of the event - our greatest supporters - are all subjects of systematic FBI repression, facing imprisonment, deeply affected the collective mind of Junkyard Empire. We frequently have reflective conversations about this point in our history as a band. We released Rise of the Wretched that same day. In fact, that protest was one of six or seven shows that week, what we called the ANTI-RNC TOUR. That was our first real direct activism as a band on the grand scale.

From there, we simply got more and more politicized, while also trying much harder to take our music to a more mainstream place, only in the sense that we wanted more access to potential audiences for what we are trying to say. The result of that re-assessment of our trajectory as a band was signing with MediaRoots Music to release Rebellion Politik. That experience changed me a lot as a musician. I had never worked with a producer before, which was a surprisingly refreshing and well, productive, experience. Rebellion Politik was also the first recording that I used my electronics pedals as a key ingredient in my own personal sound with the band, something that is now commonplace for me. I bring this up, because the musical evolution of this band is just as interesting as the increased movement participation. In our six years we have gone from being described as the "jazz version of Rage Against the Machine" in Political Affairs Magazine, to "like listening to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, fronted by Talib Qweli, with the rush of Rage Against the Machine when they still had something to say" in Okay Player.

Right around the time we released Rebellion Politik, I became possessed with figuring out how Junkyard Empire could go to Cuba to perform, show our solidarity with their struggle, and learn for ourselves what it is really like over there. I knew that Audioslave had done it, and that Mos Def had done it, and that others had done it, so why not Junkyard Empire? After all, we were basically unknown, so why would the powers that be even give a shit right? I'm sure they did, but whatever. The unmarked police cars outside of the house were not even undercover enough for the neighborhood 8-year olds to warn us about. We ended up, thanks to the good graces of a really radical lawyer, named Bill Martinez, getting invited on a 10-day tour and research expedition in Havana by the Cuban Ministry of Culture, and the Cuban Rap Agency. You heard me. It was a life-altering experience on a multitude of levels; just ask Graham, our drummer.

As radical as going to Cuba was, it got zero press. It was when we played at a peace festival on a huge Wisconsin farm called Pigstock 2009 that we really started to go to a new place as a band. Chris Hedges was the keynote speaker at that event, and it was through Chris that I was introduced to Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers. After emailing with them, sharing our music with them, and asking how we could help with their organizing work, we ended up planning a protest concert in New York City at Union Square Park on tax day last year. Zeese and gang organized a big B of A protest/flashmob thing that took place right after our live set in the park. That was April of 2011. Acts of Humanity was released in June of 2011. The association with Margaret and Kevin led to my participation in the October 2011 Movement Steering Committee, where they really took me under their wing and I got to see organizing big national actions from the inside out. Our organizing led to a live performance in Washington, DC on October 6th in Freedom Plaza, marking the beginning of that occupation, which is still going strong today. We were planning that action for several months before Occupy Wall Street was even a thought. It was an amazing experience to be planning an action we were referring to as an occupation and then spontaneously witness the birth of the "Occupy Movement" in New York a month before our event was to take place. I suddenly found myself, the band, and the country at a wonderful moment in history.

These kinds of convergences of interests continue to grow for Junkyard Empire, and for all of us in the band. Our FIFTH record, tentatively titled JUNKYARD EMPIRE presents: Sounds of Resistance, is going to be a kind of edited volume, for lack of a better term, that will resemble that interconnectivity. We will be not only featuring new Junkyard Empire material that is going to be extremely fresh and revolution minded, but spoken pieces from our favorite political dissidents, and some choice tracks from a few select fellow activist bands and artists. It will be released free on the Internet and we expect you share it like it's love itself. But most importantly, it will be recorded in the bitter, harsh Minnesota Winter, the reason there is so much great music coming from there, and it will be released on REBEL POLITIK RECORDS, our new cooperative activist music label.

Thanks world for letting me share my fortunate story, and to mark a milestone for Junkyard Empire, the band that has been at the center of my life since 2006. Wonder what we'll be doing on our tenth anniversary as a band. Brian, we need to decide what the official start of the band was. Get with me on that will you?

Christopher Robin Cox

Monday, November 21, 2011

Occupy Musicians has Officially Launched

Junkyard Empire signed on and so should every other band who has brought its music to the movement. Here's the site:

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Junkyard Empire is Coming to OCCUPY YOUR CAMPUS!

Christopher here everyone. Here's the deal: College campuses are one of the last remaining places in America where primarily young, striving minds are in the majority. Those are the people who simply must become the leaders of this movement. I mean, Hell, I'm going to apply to graduate school for political science just so that I can organize on college campuses a little easier. Junkyard Empire wants to play that role too, and we have some good connections who will help us do it. But here's the thing, we need students on these campuses to be our eyes and ears, to let us know what campuses have Occupy events and other such events where Junkyard can not only play a show, but help organize and do outreach for the action. We are musician/organizers, you dig?

Are you a student organizer? Involved in on-campus protest movements? Give a shit about what you do in this world, beyond it's worth on the capitalistic market? Are you simply sick and fucking tired of all the bullshit this country's leadership and corporate hegemonic masters shove down your throat while you are trying to further your mind? Here's what you do: OCCUPY YOUR CAMPUS. Talk to us about helping you plan an event. We will be in NY in February, which will be the first in what we hope will be a monthly show at a campus somewhere in the country. This idea will be fleshed out further as I solidify the plan and run it by the guys, but for now, we are collecting names and contact information from folks who want to help us put together the information we need in order to plan something. Obviously, we'd love to play a regular old college show, but it would be much much better if it were an Occupation. Here are cities/regions we are looking to come to:
-Minnesota (January)
-New York/Massachusetts/Vermont/Connecticut (February)
-Washington, DC (week of March 30th)
-California, Oregon, Washington (April/May)

If you have any leads, please send us an email or contact us through one of our networks. junkyardempire@gmail.com

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Theft of the Commons Tour + the Occupation of Freedom Plaza = 2 good months for Junkyard Empire

First off, please excuse our long delay in keeping up our blog. In general, it is Bryan Berry or myself (Christopher) who write on the blog, so if you are pissed, go tell Brihanu, Graham, or Steve. Anyhoo, I wanted to put up a little update as to the life and times of Junkyard Empire. After all, this project has been in place since late 2005, believe it or not.

We are very excited about the THEFT OF THE COMMONS TOUR, which our friends No Bird Sing (featuring our drummer Graham O'Brien) kindly invited us to join for the West Coast dates, along with the one and only Kristoff Krane. If you haven't heard No Bird Sing and Kristoff Krane, you should go do that right now. We will be playing in San Diego, doing a label showcase in Hollywood, and playing San Francisco and Portland! To learn more about the dates, the tour, etc, just go here: http://www.facebook.com/junkyardempire?sk=app_123966167614127

As if finally getting out to the West Coast - where I now live by the way (in Portland) - was not enough, we are going to be playing what simply has to become one of the biggest Washington, DC protest events in decades. STOP THE MACHINE! CREATE A NEW WORLD! is a rally and occupation of Freedom Plaza beginning on October 6th. To find out more about the rally, our demands, and the amazing list of musicians who will be performing, go to http://www.october2011.org This is the kind of protest we have been waiting for, trust me.

And finally, if you know anyone in San Diego, San Francisco, or Portland, let them know that Junkyard Empire is coming through town with two other amazing bands from Minnesota. You could call it the Cold Front.

In Solidarity,

Sunday, February 7, 2010


am i being radical?  if simply seeking information about global realities and seeing this world for what it actually is, and not wanting to be worked to death in a overwellmingly debt ridden, energy addicted, private-interest serving war-mongering empire makes me radical, then we as everyday citizens have a lot of work to do.

Posted via email from bberry's posterous